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Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Learning to love cooked greens. March 12, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. In the part of the South where I grew up (Nashville), cooked greens pretty much meant collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens, boiled to a sludgelike consistency with fatback or bacon grease. They were bitter and slimy. Beet greens and Swiss chard tasted like dirt. Eeewwww! The only cooked greens I could bear were spinach leaves, still boiled into sludge (usually from a frozen box) but served up with vinegar, salt and pepper, rather than pork fat. Spinach never became bitter, and the vinegar (and good old S&P) perked it up nicely.*

What about kale (now my favorite green), you ask? It was unknown in the South of my childhood. The only time in my school years when I misspelled a word in a spelling bee was when my fourth-grade teacher (a Northern transplant) gave me the word “kale.” She was incredulous when I told her that my spelling, “cail,” was based on the sound, since I’d never heard of the word, much less the plant. I thought it must be a Scottish or Irish word (think “ceilidh,” pronounced caylee).

Once I was out on my own, I read about the huge health benefits of greens, releasing megadoses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other super-healthy stuff, along with fiber and very few calories. I also found out that all these nutritional goodies were most readily available if cooked.

I was lucky to love kale, mustard greens, cabbage, arugula, watercress, endive, sprouts, matchstick broccoli stems, and many another green raw in salads. I could eat a mixed-green salad packed with nutrients every day. But yikes, I realized, those nutrients would be even more available if I cooked the greens before eating them.

Clearly, it was time to rethink cooked greens. I started with my favorite, cooked spinach. I abandoned my mother’s time-tested technique of boiling a box of frozen chopped spinach to death. Instead, I bought bags of organic fresh spinach. I prepared this two ways: I added the washed leaves to a heavy pan, in which sweet onion and mushrooms had already been sauteed, covering the pan and letting the spinach wilt. Or I dry-steamed the spinach in a heavy covered pan with just the wash-water clinging to the leaves and/or a bit of veggie stock, with added black pepper, salt (we like RealSalt and sea salt), gomashio/gomasio, a Japanese seasoning that combines sesame seeds and sea salt, and balsamic vinegar (instead of Mama’s ubiquitous white vinegar).

Okay, what about the heartier greens, like kale and collards? I found a wonderful recipe for those in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet (Rodale, 2009). Thanks, Alicia!

To make her recipe my way, you saute 3 minced garlic cloves in extra-virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, wash a bunch of collards and cut out the stems, then chop them (the stems), set them aside, and tear the greens into salad-size pieces. Add the stems to the garlic pan with 3 tablespoons of raisins, sea salt (or RealSalt or Trocomare), black pepper, and red pepper flakes or a splash of your favorite hot sauce (optional). (I like Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce in this.) If the pan starts to dry out, add a splash of veggie stock or broth.

When the stems start looking translucent, add the damp collard greens to the pan, stir well to coat with the saute mix. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or more to taste), add another splash of veggie stock/broth if needed, stir well, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. When the greens are heated through but still have a bright green color and retain their shape, serve. Top each serving with a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds. (Alicia uses toasted pine nuts on hers.)

Yum! These are good greens, people. I plan to try a variation tonight using kale and subbing diced sweet onion for the garlic, adding a handful of chopped mushrooms with the onion, and using gomasio instead of the pumpkin seeds.

Other ideas: You could use peanut oil and chopped peanuts instead of olive oil and pumpkin seeds for a richer taste, maybe subbing shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or tamari and rice wine or ume vinegar for the balsamic vinegar. For a decadent taste, try subbing toasted sesame oil, black sesame seeds (usually available in health food stores), shoyu/tamari and rice wine/ume vinegar. Or for a very mild taste, use canola oil instead of the olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice instead of the vinegar, swap out the dark raisins for golden raisins, and top your greens with almond pieces or slivered almonds. (If you can find Meyer lemons, as I did recently at Wegman’s, they’ll add a delicious sweet-tart taste.) Hmmm, I’ll bet diced dried apricot would taste really good in this, too…

I also need to consider the more conservative tastes of our friend Ben, who enjoys balsamic vinaigrette on his salads but refuses any cooked greens with even a whiff of vinegar, and is no fan of Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale. What to do? Hide those greens in stir-fries, bean dishes (even refried beans and dal), soups, lasagna, and the like. (I’ll share my ultimate soup recipe tomorrow.) Fortunately, OFB loves spinach in his salads, and he obliviously eats kale and mustard greens when they’re tucked into a big, crunchy salad as well.

I’m still working on a cooked-greens recipe that is healthy enough to suit me and still is tasty enough for Ben. (Any ideas?) ‘Til then, I guess I’ll be having my cooked greens for lunch.

                   ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

* I don’t know why WordPress changed the font on the first paragraph, but I apologize. Hopefully it’s just a fluke and not their latest style.

In praise of arugula. May 13, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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3 comments

Silence Dogood here. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we eat a lot of salads. Our friend Ben and I feel that it’s just not right to start the evening meal without a big, crunchy, colorful salad. (Believe it or not, when we’re going out to eat, we actually tend to choose restaurants based on the quality of their salads. Bad, boring, or meager salad? Bad restaurant. Next!) I’ll give you the whole salad song-and-dance when I have a little more time to share our salad secrets. Today, I want to focus on my very favorite salad green, and one of my top ten favorite crops, arugula. 

Arugula is memorable for more than its distinctive rich, spicy flavor and meaty texture. There’s also that name. Except for Dracula, I can’t say that I know any other words like it. Our good friend Richard Saunders, who loves investigating the origins of words, tells me that it derives from the Latin eruca, which means “caterpillar or plant with downy stems” (eeeewwww!!! that hardly sounds appetizing, and besides, arugula’s stems are not “downy”). But how’d we get from eruca to arugula? It’s apparently the Spanish diminutive form. (The French roquette strikes me as closer to the Latin original.) I hadn’t realized that arugula was a Spanish word; I’d just assumed it was Italian. Shame on me for not taking Spanish in school! (And if you’re wondering what “Dracula” means, Richard says it’s Romanian for “son of Dracul,” and that dracul means both “the dragon” and “the devil.” Clever guy, that Bram Stoker.)

Arugula’s a cool-season crop, which means it’s ready to harvest now in our part of Pennsylvania. We like to pick the largest leaves off the outside of our plants so the plants can keep producing until the weather heats up, when they bolt (send up flower stalks) and become so bitter they’re only fit for the chickens. But you can harvest whole plants, too. Luckily for us, by the time we have to pull our plants, our local CSA and farmers’ market have kicked in with their own arugula, so we can continue to indulge through June. You can also sow arugula in late summer for a fall crop—our CSA offers it again from September through November.

Arugula’s spicy flavor and meaty texture will add richness and depth to a mixed-greens salad. And we generally love to mix all sorts of greens in our salads. But arugula’s so good that, if we have enough, we love to eat it on its own. One of our favorite ways to serve arugula is also the simplest—a plate of the freshly washed greens topped with shredded Parmesan or Swiss cheese and roasted almond bits, with a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Yum!!! Want to dress it up a bit? Add grapefruit, orange, or mandarin orange segments, and mix some orange juice into the oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Because arugula’s both rich and spicy, I don’t add herbs to either the salad or the dressing when I’m making an arugula-based salad. No point in muddying that flavor! It is definitely a star on its own.

One of the many virtues of arugula is that it can stand up to some pretty intense, earthy flavors, unlike wimpier greens, which makes it a perfect pairing with roasted beets, feta or chevre cheese, and walnuts, all of which have robust flavors. Again, dress it simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt, or add just a touch of lemon juice for a tangy note.

Other ways we enjoy arugula are substituting it for basil in pesto and using it in pasta sauce. For a light pasta sauce, we’ll saute diced onions and sliced mushrooms in olive oil, then toss in chopped arugula just before serving, continuing to sautee just until the arugula has wilted. Then we’ll serve the sauce over fettucine or spaghetti with crumbled feta or flaked Parmesan on top. (Our heat-loving friend Richard likes to toss in crushed red pepper and minced garlic when he makes this sauce.)

I’ve spoken before about our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm. Not only do the farmers, John and Aimee Good, provide us with a wealth of organic, farm-fresh veggies, herbs, and flowers from June through November, but they also provide recipes so everyone has lots of options for enjoying each crop. (Thanks, Aimee!) Here are two of their arugula recipes that I think you’ll enjoy.

               Chopped Arugula Salad

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar or honey (Try it with maple syrup, too!—Silence)

2 roasted red peppers, chopped

1/2 pound arugula, cut into strips (about 4 cups)

Mince garlic and mash with salt. Add oil, vinegar, pepper, and sweetener. Mix arugula, peppers, and dressing. Toss to coat. Yield: Four first-course servings.

             Fruity Arugula Salad

1/2 pound arugula leaves, torn if desired (about 4 cups)

2 medium pears, apples, or combination

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup goat, feta, or other soft cheese

            Balsamic Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

scant 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce (to taste)

chopped fresh basil, dill, parsley, or combination (optional)

Core and chop pears, apples, or combination. In a large bowl, mix arugula with fruit. Add nuts and cheese. Toss well. For dressing, mix all ingredients in a jar or salad cruet. Shake vigorously until well blended. Add dressing to individual salads just before serving. Serves 4-6.  

Too bad it’s just 7 a.m.—I’m ready for an arugula salad right now! If you’ve never had arugula before, you simply have to try it and experience its flavor for yourself. Some things are indescribable—saying it tastes like this or smells like that or looks like the other just doesn’t touch the awesome reality. The scent of peonies or freesias or old-fashioned bearded iris falls in this category—their trademark fragrance is instantly recognizable, unlike any other. The flavors of asparagus, artichokes, and arugula are like that, too. Seeing the Northern Lights or lightning bugs (fireflies) in a summer field or, say, a full moon, is like that visually. You’ve just gotta go there and find out for yourself. We’re in arugula season right now. Won’t you join me in an arugula salad tonight?

                    ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence